Debunking the Myths of Freelance Writing, Part 2

More perceptions of a writer’s life that seldom match reality.

Myth #4: “Modern technology makes writing easier.”

Writing easier? No! Typing easier? Yes! I’ve gone from manual typewriters to electric typewriters to computers to iPads, and the only word processor I’ve ever discovered is the human brain.

Computers cannot create stories of drama or passion. Software programs with fill-in-the-blank plots are like cookie cutters: they produce lots of product with little variety. Even spell check programs can’t know if you meant aye, I, or eye or so, sew, or sow.

Grammar checkers will try to convince us there’s never a time you can use a sentence fragment. Not so. Multiple fonts cannot compensate for shallow research, a dull topic, or weak writing.

Yes, on-screen editing, document storage, and on-line data retrieval can make our writing time more efficient. But nothing will ever replace human creativity.

Reality #4:

Technology can prepare your words faster, but they still have to be your words!

Myth #5: “Writers make a lot of money.”

Some do, most don’t. The late James A. Michener once noted, “A writer can make a fortune in America. He just can’t make a living.”

He wasn’t being facetious. If a writer receives a $50,000 advance to write a biography of a famous personality, that may seem a fortune. But the project could take three years and involve travel expenses and secretarial help. That means the author must live off less than $17,000 per year (before taxes) while also covering his expenses.

If the book does not sell well enough to work off the $50,000 advance, the author will see no additional funds. Knowing this, writers must budget their money as strictly as they budget their time.

Reality #5:

To support themselves, most fulltime freelance writers rely on wise investments and careful cash flow management rather than royalty checks.

Myth #6: “I can set my own hours once I’m a fulltime writer.”

The opposite is true, for you never again have free time. Unlike salaried workers, freelance writers don’t receive sick pay, paid vacations, holiday pay, or payment for further training. Time not spent writing means lost revenue.

Most writers work weekends, holidays, and late into the night. They crave new writing assignments, but then are pressured by looming deadlines. Freelance writers live in the shadow of the word deadline. If I go past this line, I’m dead.

W. Somerset Maugham was once asked how he produced such a vast amount of writing when he worked only from 9 a.m. until noon. “I write 24 hours a day,” Maugham said. “I only type from nine till noon.”

Reality #6:

Writing is not a luxury occupation. It requires:

● discipline

● continuous work

● dedication

● productivity

Knowing the expectations seldom match the reality, why do people stay at it? Each writer will answer differently, but most share basic reasons.

Writers often see the negatives as positives. The fact that technology cannot make writing easier presents a creative challenge. That people are not born to the craft encourages new writers to believe that with study and practice, they too can succeed.

More than anything, writers write because they must. It’s their joy, their destiny, their sense of fulfillment. The hardships are inconsequential. Producing the manuscript is what matters.

Poet Lee Pennington explains it this way: “I can go without breathing for awhile and I can go without writing for awhile, but neither for very long.”

There’s nothing mythical about that.


Dennis E. Hensley, Ph.D., directs the professional writing department at Taylor University. His 3,000 freelance articles have appeared in such periodicals as Reader’s Digest, Essence, Writer’s Journal, Stereo, The War Cry, Modern Bride, The Writer, Guitar Player, and Success.


  1. says

    I agree with the joy, destiny and sense of fulfillment part. I also believe it is a gift God gives and uses as we hone it to perfection–HA–if that day should ever come.

    Love the Lee Pennington quote, and WOW, Michener. I read him a bit as a younger person. I would love to have had a webinar with him, to know how he did it, what ran through his brain and what his processes were as he wrote his sweeping novels.

    Thanks Doc.

    • says

      Hi, Carmen and Tom,
      Thanks for your notes. Great to hear from you, friends. Yes, Tom, I have frequently told me students, “A bad day writing is better than a good day working fast food.” It has it challenges, but I haven’t found anything I like better.
      In regard to the question about being embarrassed in front of an editor, my experience has been that one mistake is usually something that can be forgiven. Editors are looking for good ideas, good material, and good writers, so they are slow to burn bridges just over a matter of mechanics or format. However, continuously disregard for writers’ guidelines shows a lack of professionalism and disrespect for the editor’s time. Thus, I’d try that editor again, if I were you.
      My thanks to the others who wrote to comment on this two-part series. At CWG, we are always trying to provide pragmatic, insightful information related to the world of professional writing.
      Doc Hensley

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